I know, I know: you’re on the way to ruining your diet with Halloween candy and here I am yakking about the holidays. But believe me, it is not too early to get your ducks—not to mention turkeys, briskets, steaks, slabs o’ bacon, relishes, cheeses, sauces, jellies, cakes, pies, ice creams, and flavored salts—in a row. Because the truth is that whatever the larger spiritual meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas, in fact, they’re all about the food.
No, really. The bonding that goes along with sharing a meal or giving food as a gift is at the heart of the holidays. In an ideal world, of course, you would prepare all the meals, do all the shopping, and mail all the presents yourself. But as you know, the Ideal World as We Know It came to an end circa 1957, and ever since then, intelligent people have been asking themselves, “Why should I have a nervous breakdown doing all that work when I can pay somebody to have one for me?”
With this in mind, back in February I contacted every Texas mail-order food company I could find, and for the next seven months, I tasted, tasted, and tasted some more. Some weeks, the poor deliveryman could hardly see over his dolly. (The high, or low, point was the day he staggered in with 98 pounds of meat and an apple pie from one barbecue company alone.) By mid-September, the tally had topped out at more than four hundred products.
In the end, I chose some forty items to feature in the magazine (and more than twenty very good runners-up). This list is wildly varied and unapologetically personal: I love barbecue and chocolate, so there are lots of briskets, ribs, and bonbons. I’m unimpressed with most jalapeño jelly, so there’s just one of those. In the end, though, every item is something I would be tickled to get as a gift (especially if I were living outside Texas) or proud to serve to my friends and family.
One final word: I suggest you order ten days before a major holiday, just to be safe. And be prepared for the delivery cost to be stout (prices listed here do not include shipping, unless noted). Mail order is not the cheapest way to go, but it’s worth it when you’re slammed with a zillion things to do. To paraphrase that commercial: One pecan pie, sent to Aunt Ethel in Pampa: $34.31. Letting somebody else do the work: priceless.
Mozzarella Company Cheeses Dallas
Attention, cheeseheads, if these descriptions don’t whet your appetite, nothing will: “Blanca Bianca—Washed with white wine daily during its aging process, it has a lovely golden brown rind and a creamy
white semi-soft interior”; “Fresh Texas Goat Cheese—Mild, delicately flavored chevre”; and “Deep Ellum Blue—Earthy and complex.” Choose from twenty types by the biggest producer of totally handmade
cheese in the state. Samplers begin at $47 (shipping is included). 214-741-4072 or mozzco.com.
Greenberg Smoked Turkey Tyler
A mahogany-hued smoked turkey from Greenberg, tender and juicy, is such a holiday tradition in some families that they’d sooner do without a Christmas tree. Greenberg does whole turkeys, not those atrocious cured boneless breasts, and they are divine. $3.65 a pound (6- to 15-pounders available). 903-595-0725 or gobblegobble.com.
Bear Creek Smokehouse Boneless Ham Marshall
Remember Dorothy Parker’s famous quip “Eternity is two people and a ham”? You’ll be happy that Bear Creek’s pink whole ham is hardly depleted after being used for a holiday dinner and then sandwiches the next day. Frankly, it looks pretty ordinary, but the flavor is sweet and not overwhelmed by salt. Four- to five-pound ham $44.90 (shipping is included). 800-950-2327 or bearcreeksmokehouse.com.
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que Brisket, Pork Chops, and Pork Ribs Llano
Unlike most Texas barbecue purveyors, Cooper’s cooks “cowboy style,” with hot coals directly under the meat; the dripping juices sizzle like mad, and the smoke flavor is intense. These three were the best of the products sampled: The brisket was tasty, quite salty, and reasonably moist; the pork chops huge and gnarly (mini-roast size); the pork ribs falling- off-the-bone tender, with a peppery crust. Each item $10 to $11 a pound. 877-533-5553 or coopersbbq.com.
Mikeska Pork Ribs and Jalapeño Cheese Sausage El Campo
Talk about a good meaty flavor. These pork ribs have it, even though some parts are pretty darn fatty. The semi-coarse sausage has a distinctive jalapeño flavor smoothed out by a hint of American cheese. The quality is high, as you would expect from the Mikeska name, a famous one in Texas barbecuedom. Pork ribs $8.25 a pound, sausage $4.95 a pound. 800-388-2552 (orders may be e-mailed from the Web site, mikeskabbq.com).
Nolan Ryan Steaks Huntsville
Since retiring from baseball, former Houston
Astros and Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan
has beefed up—figuratively speaking. He now sells aged steaks from naturally raised cattle. What does that mean? No growth hormone implants or antibiotics are allowed during the last one hundred days. Of several cuts, the ribeyes were (predictably) the tenderest and juiciest. Four uncooked 10-ounce ribeyes $46.99.
936-436-1622 or nolanryanbeef.com.
Pederson’s Natural Farms Jalapeño Sausage and Applewood-Smoked Bacon Hamilton
For a sausage, this one is downright healthy. Preservative- and nitrite-free, it’s hot enough to make your nose run but not your eyes water. Pederson’s bacon proves that all bacon is not created equal. You’ll notice that when you fry this baby up in a pan. The applewood smoke is lighter than hickory or maple, and the lack of nitrites lets the sweet pork flavor shine through. One sausage link $3.99, 12-ounce package of bacon $3.49. 254-386-4790 or healthypork.com.
Perini Ranch Mesquite-Smoked Peppered Beef Tenderloin Buffalo Gap
I swear, once you try it, Tom Perini’s tenderloin will become one of your cherished holiday traditions. It’s utterly lean, soft as butter, and seasoned with a peppery, garlicky rub. While distinctive, the smoke flavor is not overwhelming. This tenderloin is fully cooked to a perfect medium rare, so all you